Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Russian Constructivism

Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism is on at Tate Modern until the 17th May. I have been twice but it’s been a challenge to review.

Constructivism’s tragedy was that the artists subsumed themselves totally in the bright hopeful dawn of the Russian Revolution - truly, they believed and strived for a better world for all, and their efforts were betrayed by Lenin and Stalin in favour of the aesthetic death of Soviet Realism. And Constructivism was then harshly suppressed. Artworks and artists were smuggled out to the west or hidden, or destroyed by Soviet apparatchiks.

However, like many revolutionaries the Constructivists lacked a sense of humour. Satire or playful social comment was beyond them; also, they consciously disowned as bourgeois the romantic notion of the artist as a revealer of deeper truths about the human condition. Instead, they explored industrial and theatrical design in the service of the Revolution.

Ironically, in that respect, they were pretty on message with Soviet Realism; they just expressed it in a thoroughly avant-garde style.

And their style has been profoundly influential - for example, London Underground’s fabric patterns are indebted to Constructivist examples. Also, contemporary typography and graphic design is built on Constructivist ideas.

The Tate has some excellent Constructivist theatrical set models. Exciting, as the magnificent stage in the Moscow 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, designed by the American John Casey, was based around the theme of the Russian avant-garde. (Ha! Bet you didn’t see where this was heading, did you?)

He explained that "even before [he] worked with the Russians on the TEFI Awards in Moscow in 1998, [he] was inspired by and drawn to art from the Russian Avant Garde period, especially the constructivists... [He] tried to come up with a theatrical design for the contest that incorporates Russian avant-garde art into a contemporary setting, almost entirely made up of different types of LED screens." Casey explained that together, the various LED shapes which together form the finished product. Furthermore, large sections of the stage have the ability to move, including the circular central portion of curved LED screens which can be moved to effect and allows for each song to have a different feel.”

It’s great seeing Russia re-engage with its fantastic artistic heritage. I’m sure those pioneers would be gobsmacked by the magnificence of the set, if bemused and even appalled by its ideology.

The above two photos come from Ola Melzig's indispensable behind the scenes blog, Eurovisiondiary


slayton491 said...

full credit to the organisers this year the set and stage are flawless and really add to the show's atmosphere!

Ireland shound have made it to the final!!!!:D

Hedgie said...

I absolutely agree -Ireland were robbed! Pity UK couldn't vote last night. Will you be tweeting Saturday? - missed you last night!